Well, it’s that time again. The time when I remember that I actually have a blog – oh my pour unused blog. The time when I ramble in an effort to let you know what albums I think were the best in 2016. But not so fast. First we need to cover some details about my list, talk about music consumption, and ease you into the music that got me moving in 2016.
I posted my first public top 10 list in 2009, over the last seven years the requirements of the lists have remained pretty consistent, but for new readers I like to provide a quick review. My list tends to be singer/songwriter heavy. I am a singer/songwriter, so it stands to reason that I enjoy listening to other singer/songwriters. As in years past, to make the list, I have to own the CD. Like most, I subscribe to a variety of streaming services, so I end up listening to a lot of music, but in order to be considered for the top 10, the recording had to be so good that I opened the wallet and dropped coin for the CD. Other factors that are taken into consideration, vocal quality – what can I say, I like big voices, unique voices, solid voices – total spins, lyrical content, and the ability to pull it off live. I realize the last shouldn’t be in consideration for album of the year, but it’s my list, so… Also, I will not consider EPs. Don’t get me wrong, I like EPs. I listen to EPs, but they always leave me wanting more. I understand that that is often the point, leave them wanting more has long been the motto of many a performer, but I want to be satiated by the music. I want to be fat-full. Laying on the couch in a tryptophan stupor, full. I want a post-orgasmic state where the body can do nothing but tingle as the mind reflects on what just happened. That rarely happens in four songs.
So, let’s talk about what has changed for me – consumption. For years I’d sit in my office and work the day away as Pandora spoon fed me new artists that they felt were similar to artists that I was already enjoying. I learned about a lot of new artists that way. Well, I changed jobs this year, and my new employer blocks all streaming services. ALL. STREAMING. SERVICES. However, YouTube is wide – the fuck – open. As a result, YouTube has become my new radio, and sites that share consistently great new artists like Audiotree, KEXP, and NPR Music have really had an impact on what I am listening to this year.
Now, before I get into my actual list, we need to address the incredible elephant that is in the room. I am a 42 year old dad that hasn’t toured with a band in 5 years. I work my 7 to 3, spend my free time coaching my son’s 2nd grade football team and playing fantasy football. Sure I go to concerts frequently, will even travel with the family to see bands we love, and I still play the occasional solo show, mess around making crazy experimental loops in the basement with the kids, and have friends over once and a while for a good jam to knock off the rust, but my hip-factor is as fleeting as my hairline. While I’d love to claim to be current with the new musical trends and groups, every once and a while great new artists slip by me and they miss their shot at the list. If I am being completely honest, the three artists that got the most play this year did not release full lengths in 2016 – Julien Baker, William Wild, and Sylvan Esso.
Although I knew the name Julien Baker because she made just about everybody’s 2015 list, I consider her to be an Audiotree find. It was the end of the year. I was reading other people’s lists, and I didn’t think it was right to rearrange my list just because everyone else was infatuated with this girl, so I didn’t really dig in. Well, I was wrong. I should have. I watched her Audiotree performance and was mesmerized. Six string, one voice, and some ambient delays. She is incredible. She is intelligent. She is thoughtful. She is everything I love about singer/songwriters. I just kept replaying the video. I bought the Sprained Ankle CD, bought the Audiotree recording and she entered into weekly rotation. I have listened to her CD at least once a week since first watching the video.
By the time I found William Wild, I was already allowing Audiotree to think for me. Daily I go out and look for the new releases, and no matter what it is, I listen. Sometimes its thick sludge rock, sometime hip-hop, sometimes it is new artists still struggling with keeping pitch, sometimes it is seasoned pro’s that are graciously offering up themselves to hungry ears, sometimes it is new cats whose voices are gifts. That was William Wild, aka Garrett Sale. If I had a formal tracking system, I’d bet William Wild and Julie Baker are tied for most plays this year. Like with Baker, I purchased everything I could from William Wild. While the rest of the world was on a collective conscious journey to merge electronic and folk-rock, Garrett and crew keep it pure, understated but expert production featuring heavenly guitar tones and all the pedal steel my happy ears could handle, and as mentioned his voice is a gift. It is the kind of voice that makes other singers wish they sang like him.
While Julien Baker and William Wild definitely got the most plays at home, Sylvan Esso most certainly got the most plays at work. There is nothing better than making sense out of rows of data, fully in the zone, and chair dancing to the fresh grooves concocted by Nick Sanborn while losing myself in Amelia Meath’s incredible voice. I have not created an Excel chart, PowerPoint presentation, or status report in 2016 without the assistance of the Sylvan Esso dance party. Unlike the other two artists, I found Sylvan Esso during my weekly Tiny Desk Concert search which often results in me falling down an illuminated rabbit hole of Tiny Desk performances, as YouTube serves me up artist after artist. Most become background for my work, but not Sylvan Esso. They took over the moment and produced multiple queries as I sought to learn more about this band. Like the others, I purchased everything I could find and wait patiently for more.
So, while none of them can make the official Top 10 CDs of 2016, these three were my top new finds of 2016. Tomorrow I will unveil the official 10-6, and on Friday I will give you 5-1.